American-born photographer Thomas Ives has worked for international news and feature magazines for over 38 years. His photo essays and images have appeared in National Geographic, Time, Geo, Stern, Newsweek, Life, Smithsonian, and many others publications. He currently lives in Vilcabamba with his Ecuadorian partner.
“Courage is grace under pressure.” — Ernest Hemingway
Other than the components of a loving family, work, exercise, good food and a strong community to support you, I believe there is another trait that contributes to longevity: tenacity of the human spirit and a determination to embrace what makes life worth living in the face of hardship.
I returned to Ecuador to stop, slow down and learn to live a simple life. For me the ninety plus year old woman in this picture is one of my teachers. I’ve seen her often, slowly, carefully making her way up this long, steep, gravel strewn hill, balancing on two rustic sticks. She in her knee leggings, simple flat shoes and a blue cardigan open to the breeze. Today she is returning from the tienda with two small bags of this or that … “Hay algo que necesito en la tienda,” she might have said upon leaving her hillside home. “Ya! Tengas cuidado mi amor.”
Occasionally we have spoken. Smiling gently from beneath a worn sunhat I see the face of a child, a teenager in love, a mother sitting with her sick child, a great-great grandmother. She has that straight from the heart laugh that suggests life has been rich for her, that each day is counted as a blessing.
We chat about eggs and clouds, Gilberto’s huerta of corn, how many burro loads of bricks will be needed to be hauled up the hill for her neighbours house addition. Simple things … the stuff of uncomplicated living. We also stand in comfortable silence just looking at each other, trying to divine through eye contact something that can’t be shared verbally: our divergent histories, bound by humanity, separated by language and culture, re-united through the ritual of unhurried contact. Then she hobbles off up the hill, ever so slowly, glowing with grace under pressure, to where, hopefully, someone who loves her is waiting.
I thought once about offering to help, I don’t know what I would have done, I would just get in her way, the gesture would be out of place … this place, this Ecuador. She knows very well who she is, why she is here and probably where she is going; when instead of making that right turn at the top of the hill, she will, one day, just keep walking straight into the blue … right into infinity, with a smile and those tiny bags.
So thank you sweet woman (La señora Elvira Abarca) for showing me, through example, how it’s done.
— Thomas Ives
Cell phone image created in Vilcabamba
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Copyright © 2013 by Thomas H. Ives